Advocates calling for safe drug supply amid deadliest year for overdoses in B.C.

Click to play video: 'B.C. records deadliest year of drug overdoses'
B.C. records deadliest year of drug overdoses
Last year 2,224 people died from a suspected drug overdose in B.C., making it the deadliest year ever recorded in the province for overdose deaths – Feb 9, 2022

When it comes to provincial deaths from suspected drug overdoses, 2021 is now officially the deadliest year in B.C.’s history.

Provincial health officials confirmed on Wednesday that there were 2,224 overdose deaths last year.

“Over the past seven years, our province has experienced a devastating loss of life due to a toxic illicit drug supply. This public health emergency has impacted families and communities across the province and shows no sign of abating,” said B.C. chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, in a press release.

According to the B.C. Coroners Service, 371 people died from a suspected overdose in the Interior Health region and on average there were 45.2 deaths per 100,000 people in the interior last year.

Read more: More people died from illicit toxic drugs in 2021 in B.C. than in any other year

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“In the past seven years, the rate of death due to illicit drug toxicity in our province has risen more than 400 per cent. Drug toxicity is now second only to cancers in B.C. for potential years of life lost. We cannot simply hope that things will improve. It is long past time to end the chaos and devastation in our communities resulting from the flourishing illicit drug market, and to ensure, on an urgent basis, across the province to a safe, reliable regulated drug supply,” said Lapointe.

Helen Jennens, who lost her two sons to overdoses in 2011 and 2016, says these numbers are excruciating and believes the government isn’t doing enough to keep drug users safe.

“It is totally due to an inadequate response from the government. What is the magic number that will make the government react in a different way,” said Jennens.

“We have been screaming for safe supply for a long time. We just need to stop the deaths and that is the only thing right now that will do that. Is it putting the cart before the horse, maybe, but we can’t have seven people die a day in B.C. that’s insane.”

Click to play video: 'October was deadliest month ever for overdose deaths in B.C.: Coroner report'
October was deadliest month ever for overdose deaths in B.C.: Coroner report

Erin Mintenko is a harm reduction program coordinator with the South Okanagan Women in Need Society (SOWINS), which provides harm reduction services throughout the South Okanagan. She agrees that safe supply will help keep users safe.

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“Addiction isn’t a choice, it is a trauma response. Harm reduction isn’t enabling them, it is keeping people alive long enough to let them make the choice to do something different with their lives,” said Mintenko.

“I know safe supply isn’t what everyone wants to hear right now but it should be something that is explored.”

Meanwhile, Mintenko says SOWINS gave out 3604 naloxone kits and 6389 fentanyl testing strips in 2021.

“We are seeing anywhere between 450 and 750 fentanyl testing kits going out every month, which is shocking. It normally spikes when there is a spike in overdoses or an unsafe supply going around,” said Mintenko.

Since the public health emergency was first declared in April 2016, over 8,800 people have lost their lives to drugs in B.C.

“2021 was the sixth year of the public health emergency and it is with tremendous sadness that I report that our province is in a worse place than it has ever been in this drug toxicity crisis,” said Lapointe during Wednesday’s press conference.

Click to play video: 'Penticton fire department responding to spike in overdose calls'
Penticton fire department responding to spike in overdose calls

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